The GPS navigator’s monotoned, mechanized voice orders me to Make a legal U-turn as soon as possible – although her annoyed tone belies programmed nonchalance.
I wind up a side road, through some lush greenery, and take a few sharp turns further away from the main road into an agricultural area – which is when I wonder if this churchy high school possibly worships He Who Walks Behind the Rows.
Soon enough, my view clears and I pull onto a large campus dotted with Tudor-like buildings and auditoriums. I spot the orange cones that the school’s college adviser mentioned in her email, and notice another nonprofiter scratching his head at cone-blocked spaces. I get out and move one cone, and suggest he do the same.
Per usual with these types of things, no one’s waiting for us – as we’d been assured they would be – and so I plaster on my best I-have-no-fucking-clue-where-I’m-going smile and bid the other clueless presenters to follow me – the Pied Piper of Shoreline.
A few days before, during one of the craziest weeks in recent memory, I’m nursing a baby migraine – cooing to it softly to chill the fuck out. Being a department of one has been taking its toll on my sleep-deprived mind, with my nightmarescapes being constructed of donor asks and website code and lost checks and droning voices nagging, “I need that now, NOW, NOWWWW!” Bags hang heavily beneath bloodshot eyes, and my stubble has grown coarse enough to grate Parmesan. I reach for the large mug relegated to one semi-clear spot on my desk, gulp down its contents, and begrudgingly remember that I’ve been weaning myself off coffee; this tea just isn’t cutting it. Still, I chock the tea up to making a concerted effort to mitigate potential stressors in more proactive, healthier ways. I shift back to the Power Point I’m creating for a Community Impact Day later in the week. Since part of the whole de-stressing tack also translates to me not taking things so seriously, I insert a few Kristen Wiig gifs, a frame from Dodgeball, and a few old high school photos as anchor points for my chat about nonprofit world – how I came into it, pointers I have for those interested in becoming part of it, and WHY TO RUN AWAY FROM IT AT ALL COSTS JUST RUN YOU FOOLS!
Kidding. I play through the animated slides, laugh a little, and think aloud to my empty building wing, “I’m so goddamned hilarious.”
The two elderly receptionists direct me, as well as the gradually growing group of nonprofit folks trailing behind, to the library. We gather in a large, clearly well-funded reading room and start chatting. A doppelganger for Lost‘s Hurley sidles up next to me, quickly tying back his dreadlocks into a tight bun.
“So do you, like, live here too?” he asks a sheepish student nearby. The student nods side to side, then looks back down at his phone.
“The students should each have an organization name on their paper sign,” an adviser chirps from behind him, “and then they’ll take you to your assigned room.”
My student guide, clearly engaged in judging who’s most recent Instagram is the best representation of a well-balanced breakfast, looks slightly perturbed when I pipe in, “I think I’m with you.”
I ask all the typical questions as we’re walking up the stairs to the room – where we interrupt a trio studying To Kill A Mockingbird. I stifle my urge to scream, “WHAT’S UP MAH BOOS? Get it? Boos? As in Boo Radley?”
Instead, I watch as my student guide proceeds to text her teacher, asking where she is.
“You know, when I was your age I didn’t even know anyone who had a cell phone…”
I stop myself. I’m not going to be that guy. Although I already am. Students start filing in, and I mentally assign them to a clique: jock, a/v, drama, drama, heygurlhaiiii, a/v, punks, punks, PUNKS, hayyyy.
The presentation goes well enough, with minimal eye closures and snores. I ask for questions, and almost all of them are about my years as an archaeologist, with one about the time I got stuck in a shelter dog run with a blind poodle.
The bell rings, and the next group is ushered in. They, too, seem mildly intrigued by my chatter, but most exchange knowing looks, smiling as they do.
This guy is so weird.
He thinks he’s the ‘cool presenter’ type.
What’s going on with his hair?
PUNKS, all of them. Not really. But as I stood up there rattling off life experiences, and how I parlayed a volunteer position into a growing career in nonprofit land, I couldn’t help but feel like I was aging before their eyes.
Eyes that first opened in the year 2000.
They had no idea that most of the world was all Y2K crazed in the months before they were born. Their first years were filled with Dubya’s countenance in the White House. They’ll be asking “older people” where they were on 9/11 and “How did it make you feel?” – the same way I asked various people similarly-lined questions about JFK’s assassination, the Civil Rights Movement, and hippies.
Another ear-splitting bell rings, and I part ways with the teacher – the only other person in the room who got my Blossom reference – melting into the melee of kids in the hall. Everyone’s on their phones. A little gay shuffles past with his friend, and they both smile knowingly; I smile with my eyes and keep going, terrified I’ll smile too much or accidentally lick my lips or set off a perv alarm.
Back in the Subaru, the mechanical voice drones on, directing me to turn left three feet ahead. Instead, I cancel the route calculation as she, once again, begins to advise me to Make a legal U-turn.
I retreat momentarily to the horrors of high school; fun, foundational years in college; brutal self-reflective moments in grad school; bulldozing through the recession with a shovel in-hand and an empty bank account; coming into my own and finding friends, building a loving network of chosen family; moving off and starting over with my co-pilot; and melting into California, and soaking in Seattle.
I don’t mind getting a little lost. That’s sort of what my twenties were all about. Eventually, I found my way – and now in this relatively new decade, my been-there-done-that attitude acts as my guide, helping me shift from place to place – leveraging life experience and humor in equal parts to pave the way forward.
Wherever it may lead.